Stray starling knocks down 40 tea lights during Reformation church service

03 November 2017

ROBERT ENGLISH

Double take: the Revd Dr Ian Meredith, at St Mary’s, Portchester, commemorates the actions of Martin Luther, as part of the church’s celebrations marking the start of the Reformation

Double take: the Revd Dr Ian Meredith, at St Mary’s, Portchester, commemorates the actions of Martin Luther, as part of the church’s celebrations mark...

A STRAY starling played an unexpected part in one church’s celebrations last Sunday to mark the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

In an action reminiscent of iconoclasm of the era, the bird knocked down more than 40 tea lights in the transept of St Mary’s, Portchester, in Hampshire.

“Fortunately, they were not lit at the time,” the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Dr Ian Meredith, said. “We had put them on the window sills and the capitals of the pillars to make a better atmosphere for evensong.

“It was the eight-o’clock communion service on Reformation Day, and I was doing the prayer of intercession; so I had my eyes closed and was focused on the words. But I could just hear a sound of something dropping on the wooden floor of the transept. This is an old Norman church, and, for a moment, I thought: ‘It’s the stonework coming away; the Quinquennial didn’t pick that one up.’

“When I opened my eyes, this bird was hopping about from pillar to pillar, chucking the tea lights down, and two ladies from the front row of the congregation were picking them all up. Our little iconoclastic Protestant visitor had wondered what the Church of England was becoming, and so decided he did not approve of candles.

“There was some concern among the congregation at first. I could tell they weren’t quite concentrating on the prayer, they thought the building was about to come down; but they took it all quite well — they found the irony quite humorous. I think it had got in through the slats in the belfry.”

The starling stayed for the rest of the service, but afterwards Dr Meredith left the church doors open and the intruder had vanished before the tea lights were needed for evensong. “I was grateful, as it could have been a bit distracting: people might be more interested in the bird than my sermon” he said.

It was not the first avian visitor to the Grade I listed former Augustinian priory church. About five years ago, it made the national press when a robin moved in for several weeks, even landing on the pulpit microphone and singing to the congregation. “It became quite a celebrity” Dr Meredith said.

He has marked the anniversary by dressing as Martin Luther and posting 95 theses to the door (above).

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